One of the first things I realized when I was checking out DH:LoF was the fact that the entire first half of the book was almost completely devoid of rules. Instead, the author spent a huge amount of page count on the setting of the game: the fictional nation of Promethea.
The last time I saw this sort of thing in such a prominent manner, it was through White-Wolf’s Scion: HERO. Don’t worry though, even if a good half of the book is spent on the setting, they are all pages well worth reading.
I’ve always been a a fan of setting material and culture, so it shouldn’t come off as a surprise that I was very happy about how DH:LoF pulled it off.
It begins with a lengthy discussion of the events that led to the founding of Promethea, and Victor Frankenstein’s rise to power. Written in a form that was more informative rather than purely in a fiction form, it was a welcome (and sensible) format to use. Being a reader from all the way in Asia, I will confess to having a less than thorough knowledge of this period of history. The way that it was presented made it easy enough for me to keep up and understand the nuances of the politics that gave birth to Promethea.
The sordid tale of Promethea’s creation exhibits some of the heavier themes that repeat themselves in many places in the book. Chief among them is the abuse of power. Whether politics, physical violence, or superior intellect and technology, a good part of the horror in DH:LoF lies in the utter helplessness of those victimized by the cruelty of those who have the means to take advantage of them. As an interesting counterpoint, it also showcases the heroism of the rebel, those who fight despite such terrible odds for ideals greater than the self.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. After discussing the birth of Promethea as a nation, the book goes on to discuss Promethea as it is in the timeframe of the game.
The first few words you read about Promethea is a chilling truth: “Promethea is a beautiful nightmare.” The nation of Promethea is a gothic wonderland of scientific advances and paranoia. On one hand, Promethea’s scientific advances are far beyond it’s peers. Technology and inventions exist only within Promethea’s heavily guarded borders, but the cost of Promethea’s perfection is incredibly high.
Beyond a certain social status, humanity is treated as a resource that can be exploited. Workers are hardly considered to be people, and the terrifying harvest of their organs by those of higher social status had made life a living hell for the peasantry of Promethea.
Add the fact that many of Frankenstein’s advances have been used to solidify his hold on Promethea means that the military of the state are all heavily augmented and utterly loyal. One of the most feared displays of power by the state is the form of execution known as Evisceration, where the unfortunate victim is essentially dissected while kept alive and conscious by Frankenstien’s science, their torment only ending after they are set on fire by the judge.
The book goes into morbid detail of the depravities and injustices suffered by the people of Promethea, all in a manner that gives rise to the urge to DO something about it. This dovetails nicely to the Resistance, a group devoted to fighting to free their people from their current state. It’s a thankless effort, and many of the Resistance die cruel deaths, often Eviscerated for hoping to dream of freedom from these cruel conditions.
As one can imagine, the Resistance is where the player characters come in. Outgunned, outnumbered but undeterred, the Resistance fights against the establishment, hoping that their efforts prove to be worth it. It’s a strong position to start in, but it does cement exactly what DH:LoF is really all about: the valiant struggle against overwhelming odds.
It’s a great way to kick of such a focused game. DH:LoF knows exactly what it wanted to be, and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else. So far, it’s horrifying and yet manages to instill that sense of righteous indignation that so perfectly motivates players.
Tomorrow we’ll start looking at the second half of the setting chapters of the book.